This Sunday Snippets provides another somewhat eclectic round-up of things discussed or at least noticed in my electronic travels.
Written by Thomas B. Pepinsky, Indolaysia is a Cornell blog that describes its focus this way: "Indonesia, Malaysia, Politics, Food, Music–and now research too." The blog began in September 2004, so its been going for a while. I came across it via the Lowy Institute blog. This time, my attention was caught by a post that had nothing to do with South East Asia, On Academic Writing.
The post addresses an issue that has concerned many of us who either write in an academic context or at least have to plough through such writing. A lot of it is dreadful. Professor Pepinsky makes two main points. First, most social scientists don't consider themselves writers; prose is just a rather inefficient and cumbersome technology that serves the purpose of transmitting their thoughts to other people. Secondly, the only way to learn to write is to write. I would add reading, reading of all types.
I know that this sounds simple, but its true. Writing as a craft requires constant practice. This can be hard to do in our busy lives. One difficulties are compounded by the changes that have taken place in what we might loosely call professional writing, the writing we do in a work context. In a world of spread sheets, emails, power points and bullet points, the work space actually occupied by writing has shrunk. A skill not practiced is a skill lost. You can see this in many of the documents produced.
One strength of the blogging world is the presence of some very good writers who can write with clarity and force. I admire them.
Another blog that I have just come across, again via the Lowy blog, is The GOVERNANCE blog. Personally, I have problems with the increasing obsession with governance because it lacks clarity. It's one of those trend words that conceals and confuses. Still, the blog itself looks to have some interesting material.
In his latest post, Is the regulatory problem in banking similar to that in the nuclear power industry?, Winton Bates refers in a postscript to a discussion between us on the concept of market failure. Market failure is an important concept in economics, one that spread to public policy discussions many years ago.
The discussion reflected my own confusion with the term. I realised that Winton and I were using the term in different ways. When I checked the Wikipedia definition, I found that it was closer to Winton's. I should explain the discussion in more detail at some point because it's quite important. Like governance, the word market failure now carries a lot of baggage, enough to make it very dangerous. In essence, the difficulty lies in deciding just where to place the boundaries in defining what market failure means.
In a post on Club Troppo, Mark Latham and the return of the underclass, Don Arthur discusses Mr Latham's recent essay in The Quarterly. I haven't read the full essay, only the edited version Mr Latham published in the Australian Financial Review. I read Mr Latham's remarks in a different context to Don, something that I will come to in a minute.
So far as Don's piece is concerned, while I accept that the class of poor people includes those who were not poor when they were born and think that it's a useful point, it also ignores what I see to be an undeniable fact that the current Australian system has entrenched intergenerational poverty in a way not seen before in this country. I don't accept Mr Latham's arguments, but I don't accept Don's either.
I have written on some of these interconnected issues because I consider them to be important. Sometimes I write in code, generalising. I do so because some of my contract work in recent years has actually been in the social housing arena and I cannot write as frankly as I would like because that would breach professional confidence, so I have to generalise.
Bluntly, the approach adopted to social housing has been stupid, counter productive and has contributed to intergenerational poverty. This is not a criticism of either ministers or officials. It's just that the judgements made for the best reasons at the time were, in retrospect, silly. Now good people are trying to redress problems created, but continuing systemic problems make their task incredibly difficult.
I said that I didn't accept Mr Latham's arguments.
In 1901, French writer and socialist Albert Métin published a book entitled (in English) Socialism with no doctrine. Written before the rise of the Labor Party, the book suggested that then political parties in Australia and New Zealand had created something of a workers' paradise in which the proletariat had become absorbed in the middle class. Many of Métin's arguments are mirrored in Mr Latham's writing; the current term aspirational voter directly reflects Métin's views. And yet, Mr Latham's solutions fly in the face of that earlier analysis.
Métin suggested that Australian political attitudes were fundamentally pragmatic. What was important was what worked. Oddly, Australian politics and public policy are far more ideological than they were in 1901. We cannot do things because they breach ideology. Still, perhaps that should be the subject of another post!